New Song NY

Effective Laws to Protect Music Must Be Enacted Immediately

Our laws are clearly failing the people who create music for a living. I recently learned that a friend’s music has been offered at dozens of sites around the world for free without his permission. In this case, my friend followed all of the proper steps for protecting his music through the US Copyright Office, but the current laws in the US and abroad do not provide sufficient protection from piracy. There is noble intent within the laws that are designed to protect intellectual property, but there is no adequate provision or remedy to really prevent or to discourage piracy. In short, the current laws have no teeth.

While the Digital Millennium Copyright Act seems to support the owner’s rights, it also limits the liability of the internet service providers who offer the means to distribute pirated materials. While I am not an attorney, it is clear to me that the burden of responsibility is 100% on the owners to pursue each violation. For each violation, the owner may issue a Cease and Desist letter, but must file a lawsuit within 14 days for each venue or the violator is allowed to put the material back up. In reality, there are so many violators that it is impossible to shut them all down by the time an illegal digital file is distributed online. I know the debate continues and new laws are being discussed, but time is running out for the vast majority of artists who are unincorporated and without sufficient funding to protect themselves.

Meanwhile, people seem to be increasingly indifferent to the impact this phenomenon has on the lives of innocent people who rely on their music for survival. Actually, it is the very same indifference that looters feel when the plate glass windows of a store are smashed during riots. That is, the numbers are generally in favor of the looters as the streets are temporarily outside of the control of law enforcement. It is the same because people know they risk very little (actually nothing) when they steal from their fellow man in the privacy of their homes. The reality of the actual crime is conveniently tucked away while they casually download songs from P2P sites. Indeed, many seemed to celebrate as the businesses who lived in excess during the 80’s and 90’s fell victim to the new music free for all. However, few like to think about the actual people who are now struggling to survive while their products are given away at the speed of light.

Well, in this case, I happen to know the victim. He lives in a small town in Germany with his wife and his 3 year old son. Their son recently returned from the hospital after being treated for pneumonia. Their home is very nicely furnished, but it is very small, particularly by American standards. The home is very old, so it is also very cold in the winter. Despite the difficulty of their situation, they are very happy people and they love to spend time together as a family, sometimes going for walks together. Going to a McDonald’s is a very special treat for their little boy, but it is a rare treat. Perhaps they can go one time over a period of three or four weeks.

My friend has been writing songs for several years, but his professional music career as an engineer and performer spans 15 years. He is one of many talented artists who hopes to be discovered by a large publishing company or label. But he, like many others, must work to promote his own music or work with smaller indie labels. He does not have a team of lawyers to help him protect his music. He has 24 hours in a day, studio time, rehearsals, gigs that are sometimes hundreds of miles away, and bills to pay. He expresses his feelings in his music, but he is always cheerful, particularly around his young son. My friend is a modern day Bob Cratchett and ordinary citizens who demand their music for free are the modern day Ebeneezer Scrooges.

Most people recognize the need to live by a set of basic standards that we call law. Yes, we complain and make fun of those who practice law, but in reality, we do enjoy many of the benefits of a civilized society. We are able to live, work, play, and worship as we choose. However, we like to believe that we would remain civilized and respect the rights of others in the absence of law. As we are witnessing, this is clearly not the case. We can say there are laws to protect us from piracy, but laws that are not practical and do not protect people have little value. Therefore, we have ironically moved forward in our technological development to a new period of lawlessness. Perhaps it might help to consider what life might be like when people compare it to a world in which the results of their own work is offered for free.

Finally, I hope that most people realize the value of music in our lives. If not, perhaps one might think what life would be like without music in our lives. Of course, that must be very difficult because nobody seems to have the capacity or the time or the motivation to imagine such a thing. However, the idea that music is free is not sustainable over any appreciable length of time. How long will artists continue to produce music if there is no benefit or appreciation for their time and for their art? It is not surprising that children now do not understand the concept of music costing money. To them, it is like turning on the water faucet in the kitchen, except their parents pay for the water each month. I sincerely believe something will be done eventually, but the time to act is now.

We need effective international laws that will punish anyone in the chain of distribution in direct proportion to the level of the crime. I know, for example, that I have downloaded some files from P2P sites. While I am not proud to have been a part of this mess, I proudly offer to return this money tenfold to a fund that would benefit those who worked to create this music. However, rather than normal prison time, I recommend that we put the more serious offenders to work in camps to repay their debts by the same sweat and effort that was given away in equivalent dollars at the expense of the artists. I can hear the sites shutting down at the very prospect of placing violators under the jurisdiction of criminal law.
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Sat, May 5 2012 » Arts And Entertainment

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